Recently in Theology Category

The first time I studied Leviticus carefully (about 13-14 years ago), one of the things that stood out to me was the fact that ritual uncleanness transfers very easily, but cleanness does not. If someone is unclean for whatever reason, touching someone or something clean renders the clean person or thing unclean. It doesn't go the other way. Going from unclean to clean requires certain ritual ceremonies, and it often takes time, sometimes even a week or more. Going from clean to unclean simply requires exposure.

That's one of the reasons that it's particularly impressive that in the gospels Jesus touches people who have skin diseases or unhealthy menstrual conditions when he heals them, since those conditions were ritually unclean under the Torah ritual system. And it's clear that this wasn't out of some notion that the Torah ritual system was an ancient superstition that should be discarded. He insists in his teaching about Torah that it is the word of God and will be eternally true. But he also insists that it is eternally true not because it perpetually applies but because he fulfills it himself.

So what's going on when he heals people whose conditions would normally require a week or more of cleansing ceremonies? Sometimes he does tell them to go to the priests in the temple and do the ceremonies the Torah prescribes. Other passages don't mention him saying that. But certainly what's odd about it is that he touches them himself, when there are plenty of cases where he heals people without touching them. Are we to assume that he takes on the uncleanness himself voluntarily and then has to go through the rituals to be cleansed himself? The first would be a nice symbol of how he elsewhere describes what he would do at the cross, but I don't think that's the right way to think about these cases, because he's even telling them in some cases that he has simply made them clean (e.g. Matthew 8:3, although there he does say to make the sacrifices with the priest, but he says it's to be done for proof, not for actually making the guy clean).

I've long thought of this as just an exception. Normally cleanness doesn't spread to the unclean, but these passages are presenting Jesus as demonstrating something about himself as different. He can make unclean clean instantly, and that shows that he's superior to the Torah ritual system, which only looked forward to him.

But that turns out to be wrong, on closer inspection. For one thing, it can't be mere superiority. The Bible is clear across the entire canon that God can't entangle himself with sin or sinful beings, and that's why sacrifices are needed to begin with to deal with that sin. Isaiah 59:2 describes sin as separation from God. Jesus couldn't, merely by being God, do something that the scriptures clearly present God as not being able to do without sacrifice. So it has to be tied to sacrifices in some way, and it would be nice if we could find something explicit in the ritual ceremonies that looks more like what Jesus was doing in these passages.

It turns out that these cases in the gospels are not unprecedented. There is at least one mention in Leviticus of a case where holiness spreads to something common (although it isn't described as cleanness spreading to something unclean). That's in the description of the sin offering in Leviticus 6:27, where anyone who touches the flesh of the animal offered as a sin offering is made holy. I know of no other place where something is made holy merely by touching something in the entire Hebrew Bible, although maybe there are others that I just never connected with this issue.

What's going on in the gospel passages, then, given that there is a precedent for holiness spreading from a sin offering to something else? Perhaps the implication is that Jesus could reverse the normal flow of the symbolic status of ritual uncleanness to the clean because, as a future sin offering, he is in fact able to touch something and make it holy, whereas being divine without being the sin offering wouldn't do that. That seems to make these things fit together a lot better than the way I had been thinking about it.

I was glancing through the new issue of Themelios to see which articles to save to read later, and I noticed a review of a new book on time and timelessness that included a nice summary of a common confusion in many online conversations I've had about the B-theory of time, which is often (and in this review) called the tenseless theory of time:

What is often misunderstood is that the tenseless theory of time is, in fact, a theory on time and change. Holland, like most others, treats the tenseless theory of time as if it were about timelessness. The idea seems to be that a tenseless theory of time gives us a world where all moments are equally, wholly, simultaneously, and timelessly present to God. But the tenseless theory of time does not give us this. All it gives us is a theory about what is true at certain times without any reference to tense. An example of a tenseless truth is <Wipf & Stock publish Richard Holland's book on February 20, 2012 at 8:00am>Granted, this proposition does not change its truth-value like <Wipf & Stock will publish Holland's book tomorrow> does. But the tenseless proposition still gives us a proposition about what is true at a particular time. Even if the tenseless theory did entail a particular ontology of time whereby the past, present, and future all exist, it would not give us a state of affairs where all moments of time are simultaneously present to God. This is because all moments of time are not simultaneous together, even on a tenseless theory of time.

The reviewer goes on to explain how this problem occurred in the book being reviewed.

There are two other problems I've encountered with people arguing against the tenseless theory of time, involving confusions of a different sort. I think the most common is the pretense that the tenseless theory of time amounts to the view that nothing changes, that all objects at each time are always at those times, that there is no succession of moments, and so on. The B-theory, static view of time, or tenseless view of time says nothing of sort. All it says is that time consists of moments in a succession of before, after, and simultaneity and that none of those relationships are reducible to tensed propositions. Rather, tensed propositions are grounded in the relations before, after, and simultaneous. There is no objective present, past, or future. Those terms are relative to what moment in time you're speaking of (or speaking at). But there's never any denial of change, of ordering in time, or of anything like that. And adding a timeless God to the picture doesn't change any of that. It's still true for God that the moments in time happen in an order and that the things in time change. It's just that God's own experience of those moments in time isn't temporally ordered (but that doesn't mean God is unaware of the order of the events in time, as a number of my students have wrongly taken the idea of atemporality to imply).

The other problem I see regularly is confusing this theory of time with a completely different theory about persistence of objects through time, namely the four-dimensionalist or temporal parts view. The latter view is a theory about how an object persists through time, whether it is by enduring through time, being wholly present at each moment it exists at or being spread out across time as a four-dimensional object with parts at times. In fact, most people who hold to the tenseless theory (or B-theory) of time are not four-dimensionalists. But many people who try to argue for an alternative theory of time, in my experience, want to start with arguments against four-dimensionalism, which is a view about an entirely separate issue.

Update: I should say that there's a fourth, which is where the review starts, which is to distinguish between ontologies of time (i.e. whether only the present exists, the present and the past, or the past, present, and future) and theories about how tensed and tenseless propositions relate. Philosophers have been tying these issues together, and it's only very recently that metaphysicians have begun to tease them apart. Several top philosophers of time still don't understand that these are separate issues. The above issues involve distinctions that most philosophers get right but that undergraduates in my classes or people discussing philosophy or theology online, outside the academic context of formal training in philosophy, often get wrong. I blame people less for the fourth error, since top metaphysicians still don't see that distinction.

Hell and Possible Worlds

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Henry Imler retweeted a post today giving a defense of hell from the Arminian point of view. Randal Rauser argues that Calvinism means God isn't all-good, because in Calvinism there's no possibility of the reprobate (i.e. those predestined to hell) avoiding hell.

This strikes me as extremely odd reasoning. The idea is that Arminianism is better than Calvinism because of what happens in non-existent possible worlds, rather than having anything to say about the justice of hell in the actual world. Arminians believe that all the people going to hell have non-existent counterparts in non-existent possible worlds who didn't go to hell. Calvinists believe there are no possible worlds where those people avoid hell. So on one view you have non-existent people in non-existent worlds going to hell, and in the other view you have the same non-existent people in some (but not all) non-existent worlds not going to hell. I guess somehow the non-existent people in some of the worlds that don't exist not going to hell makes the view better than if the non-existent people were in hell in those non-existent worlds. I'm not getting it. Wouldn't be better just to argue for the justice of hell in the actual world?

That's even ignoring my huge quibble with how compatibilism is often framed as not allowing alternative possibilities. I'm perfectly fine with talking about contra-causal possibilities. If my free actions are fully explainable in terms of things in this world, I can still speak of possible worlds where things go differently because of different causes, and it's not as if it wouldn't have been me if the explanations for what I do had been different and I did different things. So why couldn't a Calvinist believe someone actually reprobate could have been elect and someone actually elect could have been reprobate? I would expect most Calvinists to say exactly that, in fact.

I also have problems with the use of James Rachels. Rachels thinks the following two cases are morally equivalent:

1. Planning out a murder, arriving on the scene, and killing the person.
2. Planning out a murder, arriving on the scene, finding them dying a preventable death, and standing their grinning watching them die.

I'm not sure how that distinction is relevant, because this is being compared to:

3.The hyper-Calvinist view where God actually delights in the person's eternal suffering itself and wants no good for them
4. The Calvinist view where God doesn't delight in the death of the wicked but has reasons for allowing the natural consequences of their wickedness to take their course in not regenerating them and letting them be wicked for eternity around other wicked people and not around God and his moderating influence. (This is not the only conception of hell, but I think it's the best one, and it has a pretty prominent proponent in Augustine.) Their own choices lead to their destruction, even if it's also true that those choices were part of God's plan. And God has motives for allowing it (just as God does on the Arminian model; you need open theism to avoid this, but open theism hardly solves the problem of evil).


Notice that 3 and 4 have contrary motivations, where 1 and 2 do not.

There is a lot of audio (and some video) material on Revelation online from Don Carson. I'm listing these in as close to chronological order as I can.


CICCU talk (Cambridge University organization for Christian students):
Apocalypse Now (Nov 9, 1986)


1994 Carey Conference, Wales (The Doctrine of Last Things) [all talks found at this link]

Rev 4 Vision of a Transcendent God (August 28, 1994)
Rev 5 Vision of a Redeeming God (August 29, 1994)
Rev 12 Rage, Rage Against the Church (August 30, 1994) [this link is to a Gospel Coalition listing that I think is the same talk)
Rev 13 Anti-Christ and the False Prophet (August 31, 1994)
Rev 21-22 Triumph of the Lamb (September 1, 1994)


The audio for Don Carson's entire seminary class on Revelation is online at The Gospel Coalition website. These are numbered out of order. The numbering was wrong before The Gospel Coalition got hold of the files, but they made it worse by listing the last six under numbers that aren't the same as the numbers the files themselves have (and they still weren't the right numbers). I spent some time a while back listening to the beginnings and ends of each file to see the proper order, and I'm reproducing my conclusions here. Because the lectures are already numbered (in some cases inconsistently), and because there happen to be 26 audio files, I will use letters to indicate the correct order to avoid confusion. (My first attempt to put these in the proper order got completely messed up because I used numbers.) This class was probably in 1995, given that he says The Gagging of God was coming out the next summer.

A. 1:1-3 (#1)
B. 1:4-15 (#2)
C. 1:16-2:7 (#3)
D. 2:8-11 (#4)
E. 2:12-28 (#5)
F. ch.3 (#6) starts with slides on cities, ends chs.2-3
G. ch.4pt1 (#9) right before #7 -- talking about elders at end
H. ch.4pt2 (#7) talking about elders at beginning
I. ch.5 (#8)
J. 6:1-6 or so (#10) new class, quiz then begins at 6:1
K. 6:6-ch.7 (#13) right after #10
L. 7:4ff. (#12)
M. 8:1ff (#14) new class starts, hands back quiz, begins ch.8 after 5 min intro
N. 10:1ff. (#11) interlude before 7th trumpet
O. 11.1ff. (#15)
P. ch.12 (#16) fills in 11:4 stuff he missed; eventually gets to ch.12
Q. 13:1-17 (#17) starts new class on 13-14,parts of 17
R. 13:17-into ch.14 (#18) class ends but didn't finish ch.14
S. ch.14 (#19) new class:rest of ch.14 some. ch.20 then ch.17, ends with children saved
T. ch.17 (#20) starts with Jews saved, continues children saved, ch.18 by end
U. ch.19 pt1(#21) new class,systematic issues,ch.19 ends with amill problem #1
V. ch.19 pt2 (#24) begins 2nd problem with amill, ends on imminent return [TGC lists as 24. Filename says 25.]
W. 19pt3 (#22) begins postmill prob: imminent Christ's return, end 19.8; class over [TGC lists as 22. Filename says 23.]
X. 20.1-6 (#25) last class, begins with ch.20 [TGC lists as 25. Filename says 26.]
Y. 20.7-21.8 (#26) starts 20.7, ends around 21.8 [TGC lists as 26. Filename says 22.]
Z. 21.9-22.21 (#23) begins 21.9 ends by reading to end of book [TGC lists as 23. Filename says 24.]


1995 EMW Aberystwyth Conference:

Rev 12:1-13:1 (August 8, 1995)
Rev 13:1-10 (August 9, 1995)
Rev 13:11-18 (August 10, 1995)
Rev 14 (August 11, 1995)


Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, MS) 2004 Missions Conference: Missions as the Triumph of the Lamb

[note: this is the same set as the ones labeled June 26, 2005 at The Gospel Coalition site, but RTS clearly labels it 2004]

Rev 4
Rev 5
Rev 21:1-8
Rev 21:9-22:6
Rev 12
Rev 13
Rev 14


June 1, 2004 (Summer at the Castle in Northern Ireland):

Rev 4
Rev 5
Rev 12
Rev 13, pt 1
Rev 13, pt 2
Rev 14
Rev 21:1-22:6
Q&A


ch.6 The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse unknown date, unknown if series (TGC lists as Jan 1, 2008)
ch.12 Rage, Rage Against the Church unknown date, unknown if series (TGC lists as Jan 1, 2008)
21:1-22:6 Even So, Come, Lord Jesus! unknown date, unknown if series (TGC lists as Jan 1, 2008)


Rev 12 The Strange Triumph of a Slaughtered Lamb (Dec 6, 2008 at Mars Hill Church in Seattle) video and audio


Rev 14:6-20 The God Who is Very Angry (Feb 28, 2009 according to TGC: part of The God Who is There series)
Rev 21:1-22:5 The God Who Triumphs (Feb 28, 2009 according to TGC: part of The God Who is There series)


Rev 21:1-22:5 The Unqualified Joy of the God-Centered New Heaven and New Earth (July 24, 2009)


Rev 21:1-22:5 What is the Gospel and How Does It Work, Part 3 (Gospel Coalition Regional Conference Los Angeles, Nov 6, 2010)


Rev 21-22 (unsure extent but probably through 22:5) Home at Last (Gospel Coalition National Women's Conference, Orlando, FL June 22, 2012)

Type

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The word 'type' is a self-antonym.

As used in Christian theology, a type is something that looks forward or back to an anti-type. The usual idea is that the type is a partial or incomplete reality looking toward a more complete reality. So David is a type of Jesus as a precursor of a Messiah with some messianic elements, or the temple is a type of Christ as taking a form that looked forward to what he would institute in the church. The temple is also a type of the church (the people, not the building), where the church is God's dwelling.

I was listening to a Bloggingheads conversation between John McWhorter and Glenn Loury, and McWhorter used the term 'type' in this way. He said Jesse Jackson is a type, meaning that he exemplifies some elements found within a generalized group of black leaders.

In philosophy, a type is not the specific instance, where someone has some elements of some general form. The type is the general form, and the tokens are the specific instances. The type would be black leaders of a certain sort, and Jesse Jackson would be the token.

I don't think it's just immersion in philosophical circles for 15 years that makes me think the philosophical use is the closer of the two to ordinary usage. I've always found the theological use to be strange, but it's only just occurred to me that it's not just strange but backwards. Every time I hear someone use it in a sermon without explaining it, I think the ordinary person isn't going to get it, and it's just occurred to me why. If you say David is a type of Christ, people will think that means he's a kind of Christ. In loose usage, that doesn't mean he's a category rather than a person, but theologians who say such things don't remotely mean that David's a messiah. They mean he's a precursor of the Messiah.

I don't think the ordinary usage is exactly opposite the theological usage, but this kind of funny use, which becomes second-nature for some with a lot of theological training, is at odds with how most people will hear the term, and that's something preachers would do well to keep in mind.

Joel S. has an informative and thoughtful review of Miroslav Volf's new book Allah: A Christian Response [ht: Justin Taylor]. This post is adapted from a comment I left on Joel's review, with significant expansions and modifications.

I like a lot of what Volf is saying, but I think Joel's concerns about the book are important things to be concerned about, especially the ones numbered 2 or higher. I disagree with his take on the substantive issues for concern 1, and I've been on record defending my view on the matter for quite some time.

The issue is whether I refer to the same being a Muslim refers to when we both talk about God. The Muslim uses the word 'Allah'. I use 'God'. Volf apparently argues that the Christian view of God and the Muslim view of God are sufficiently similar to ensure that they both will refer to the same being. I think that's a terrible argument. Any argument based on sufficient similarity is going to fail pretty quickly once we look to the essential Trinitarian nature of God. That's a pretty core element of the Christian view, if we're basing the reference of terms on actual metaphysics.

But of course language doesn't work that way. When people starting talking about water, they weren't doing so with full understanding of its chemical structure. If two groups with competing scientific theories about what water really is still referred to the same stuff and called it water, it would be nothing short of obtuse to claim that they referred to different stuff. Their historical and causal connection with that stuff is what grounds their reference to it with their terms, even though they had conflicting theories about what it is in its nature.

Similarly, the general Abrahamic tradition, confused as it is at some historical points, grounds the Islamic reference to God when they use the word 'Allah'. They refer to the being who interacted with human beings in the patriarchal period, through the human king they call the prophet David, and (and this is key) through that guy that they call the prophet Jesus. Surely they believe false things about Jesus, by any Christian standard. But it's the historic Jesus whom they claim to be a prophet, whom they claim to be returning someday, whom they claim did not die on the cross but was replaced by Jesus. They get Jesus' nature very wrong, but they refer to him when they do so, just as scientists got the nature of heat wrong when they thought it a substance but still referred to it (the kinetic energy) when they talked about it.

So if the question of whether Muslims worship the same God means whether the being they call Allah is the same being we call God, then the answer is obviously yes. But Volf is wrong to base it on similarity. He doesn't seem aware of causal theories of reference or any such thing.

On the other hand, if the question of whether Muslims worship the same God means whether their worship is correct worship, then that's another question entirely. It shouldn't be confused with the metaphysical question of whether the same being is referred to by Christians and Muslims. I've seen too many people start with their stance that Muslim worship of God involves actual reference to the same God Christians worship and then conclude that Muslim worship is equivalent to Christian worship. That inference seems to me to be utterly fallacious.

Philosophy TV posted several reflections on issues related to Christmas during Christmas week last year. Jason Brennan's contribution presents the Christmas story (i.e. the gospel) as a bad story about an immoral divinity.

I chose not to post this actually near Christmas, but when I saw this I thought it would be a great exercise to identify exactly where Brennan gets the gospel message wrong (and Brennan's final question actually invites that).

In particular, there seem to be two general kinds of responses to a criticism like Brennan's. You might disagree with his portrayal of what the gospel message actually says, or you might think he gets the message right but applies a problematic moral framework. (And you might think he makes mistakes in both arenas). But if you're a Christian, you ought to think he does at least one of the two. The question is exactly which elements does he get wrong in what the gospel says or in the moral theory he applies to it, and I'm curious what people would say about that. What do you think?

[cross-posted at Evangel and Prosblogion, whose commenters will likely have very different things to say in response to this]

I've had occasion to complain before about a problematic discussion of Calvinism in a book review by William Klein (in that case in discussing David Peterson's commentary on Acts). His more recent review of David Allen and Steve Lemke's Whosoever Will: A Biblical-Theological Critique of Five-Point Calvinism critiques D.A. Carson in a way that I also think is a bit unfair, and he doesn't represent the terms of debate accurately, even apart from the fairness issue.

Here's what he says:

In various places the authors expose misunderstandings that Calvinists sometimes exhibit about those who oppose them, or how they confuse categories in their uses of terms. As one example, S. Lemke exposes D.A. Carson's misuse of the category of "compatibilism" (pp. 150-152). It does not mean that human freedom and divine sovereignty are compatible (this is the way that Carson uses it). Everyone--whether Calvinist, Arminian, or open theist--affirms that. Rather, as correctly understood, compatibilists assert that true human freedom is compatible with hard determinism. Those are more difficult to reconcile.

This is at once both right and wrong. He's right in saying that Carson uses the term 'compatibilism' differently from how philosophers typically use it. But I think he's wrong in offering this as a criticism, and he's certainly wrong in how he says the word is generally used. His misuse of the term is, to my mind, much worse than Carson's.

Compatibilism, as philosophers use the term, is the view that freedom is compatible with one's choices being predetermined. Carson doesn't seem to me to use it that way. His actual definition is in terms of divine sovereignty, not in terms of predetermination. If God is entirely sovereign over anything that occurs in a way that whatever happens is exactly as God intended, then it need not be predetermined by God but just anticipated by God in a way that, had God wanted something else to happen, God could have intervened. Carson's definition of compatibilism leaves that open.

To be fair, though, Carson's discussions of this all include expressions along the lines of "absolute freedom to the contrary" to describe the kind of view of sovereignty that he's denying. If someone has the absolute freedom to do something that even God can't intervene with (without removing the person's freedom), then it's not the kind of divine sovereignty he has in mind. Carson, then, is indeed denying libertarian freedom of the sort that provides the only way besides predetermination. So his definition itself does allow for this, but what he goes on to say shows that he doesn't really intend that result.

Klein's mistake is much worse than that, though. That's just being unfair to Carson's whole approach by focusing on the terms of his definition, ones that the rest of his discussion does clarify. But in trying to correct Carson, Klein makes a much worse blunder. He gets the definition of compatibilism entirely wrong and defines it as to be totally contradictory. He says compatibilism claims the compatibility of free will and hard determinism (as opposed to the correct definition, which is that it's the compatibility of free will and determinism).

Hard determinism is the view that determinism is true and incompatible with freedom. Soft determinism is compatibilism, i.e. the view that determinism is true but compatible with freedom. Both hard and soft determinism accept the same metaphysical view of determinism. What makes hard determinism hard determinism is that it adds the separate claim that determinism and freedom are incompatible. What makes soft determinism soft determinism is that it's compatibilist. So to claim that compatibilism (i.e. soft determinism) is the view that freedom is compatible with hard determinism is to charge compatibilism not just with holding two views that conflict (which incompatibilists do think of compatibilism) but asserting of it that it holds such an explicit contradiction as to leave no room for argument. Of course anyone claiming hard determinism is compatible with freedom is holding contradictory views, because hard determinism simply is the view that determinism is true and not compatible with freedom. But that doesn't make compatibilism contradictory, because compatibilists specifically deny hard determinism.

Faith

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"Faith, to hear most people talk about it, and certainly in a religious context, is the permission that people give one another to believe things for bad reasons, and when they have good reasons they immediately rely on the good reasons." -- Sam Harris on NPR's Talk of the Nation Science Friday a few weeks ago

On one level, this is complete nonsense. My faith is not my giving anyone permission to believe things. If I have faith, that's trust in God, not permission for others to believe things. I'm not sure why Harris thinks it has to do with your attitude toward others' beliefs. No one really believes that, and I would include Harris in that.

But what he's saying reflects a common attitude toward what faith is. Perhaps he's even right that in most contexts the English word turns out to mean something to do with believing things without good reasons (which isn't the same as believing things for bad reasons, I would insist). That's at least how many people have used the term since Kierkegaard's corruption of the concept of faith.

This is not, however, how faith has historically been thought of. Augustine saw it as a kind of knowledge, just not one based in the usual sources. Its grounding comes from God and his role in giving us the faith. Thomas Aquinas distinguished it from knowledge but saw it as equally well-grounded as knowledge, just from a different source. Both of them, in fact, took the Bible to be God's word, and thus they took it to be a reliable source to get the information God wanted to convey. God is, in fact, the most reliable source of any information, and thus believing what God says is a pretty good method to get beliefs. Those who don't accept the Bible as God's word would not accept that conclusion, but what they say follows from accepting that about the Bible. The Bible itself takes faith to be simply trust in God and what God says, and it does not treat faith as some irrational acceptance of things we probably shouldn't believe.

There are plenty of debates about whether religious beliefs can be justified or warranted and how they could be if they can. I certainly have my views on that. But there's a problem before you even get to that point. There seems to be a huge discrepancy between what a lot of religious people mean when they talk about faith and what most people mean when they talk about faith. Several recent Bible translations pick up on this and use only terms of the belief-family and trust-family for the biblical words usually translated into the faith-family of English words. I think there's something to that. But might this not be a fight worth having? Sometimes it's worth giving up a term because of the confusion about what it might mean. Do we want to give up on the faith-family of terms?

We probably don't need the term, but if we give up on it there's at least one unfortunate consequence. People will completely misunderstand much of the tradition, including Bible translations that use it in the traditional way. So I'm not ready to give up on it. It's a bit of work to explain ourselves when we use the term, and it will take work to convince those who are out of touch on this point that they actually need to do that, but it's work worth engaging in, in my view.

Augustine on Free Choice

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Augustine gives an argument (City of God Book V chapter IX, among other places) that I've always had little patience with. Here is R.W. Dyson's translation of the City of God occurrence of it:

Moreover, even if a certain order of causes does exist in the mind of God, it does not follow that nothing is left to the free choice of our will. For our wills are themselves included in the order of the causes which is certain to God and contained within his foreknowledge. For the wills of men are causes of the deeds of men, and so He Who has foreseen the causes of all things cannot have been ignorant of our wills among those causes, since he foresaw them to be the causes of our deeds.

The reason I find such reasoning frustrating is because it comes across as if Augustine is trying to respond to the foreknowledge problem by saying that God foreknows our free choices, and if God knows our free choices, and God can't know something false, then they must be true. So foreknowdge of free choices actually establishes them as free rather than undermining it. The problem with such an argument is that it's question-begging. The opponent of foreknowledge will insist that God can't foreknow a free choice. So the very assumption of the argument is what the argument is trying to prove.

As I re-read the sections of City of God that I taught this semester in Dyson's translation (now that I've finally managed to get a copy), it occurred to me that Augustine might actually be doing something different in this text, something much less problematic. It looks to me as if what he's saying is that, even if there is this order of causes leading up to our wills, that's compatible with our choices being free, and then he gives a reason. The reason is that our wills are the causes of our actions. God's foreseeing of what we choose is God's foreseeing of our causing our actions. It's not God foreseeing our freedom that makes freedom compatible with foreknowledge, as the bad argument above has it. It's that God's foreseeing our freedom is God's foreseeing our own causing of our actions. Such causing is what explains our freedom.

Thus Augustine is making the Stoic point that our choices do happen even if there are causes of them that God can see ahead of time, and it's that they happen as choices that makes them free. Augustine does later distinguish his view from the Stoic position, but at this point he seems to be giving basically the same argument they give for compatibilism about being caused to do something and being free in doing it.

[Completely as an aside, what is going on with Dyson's capitalization in that passage? He capitalizes not just the personal pronoun but even the relative pronoun when it refers to God, but then he leaves even the personal pronoun in lower case in the very net clause. It's almost as bad as some Bible translations when trying to deal with psalms that don't clearly refer to just a messanic figure who thus to a Christian refers to Christ.]

In this discussion, one of the commenters makes the following argument against Reformed views of divine providence:

On a related topic, I still don't quite get Reformed theology. God desires all to repent, but He doesn't desire all to repent. How does one believe something one is incapable of understanding? It's like saying I "believe" that the round plate before me is also a square, as if my saying it makes it so.

What follows is an expansion of my response in the comments there.

What the commenter has hit on is a formal contradiction, at least if no fallacious equivocation is going on. If the word "desire" is being used in the same sense, then the statement that God desires all to repent and the statement that God does not desire all to repent do indeed result in a formal contradictiom.

But there's no problem if the two uses of "desire" are in fact different senses in which God desires. That is in fact what the Reformed view means by both claims, but the basic distinction required to take such a view isn't limited to Reformed theology. Any adequate response to the problem of evil needs something like that, as has been known at least since Thomas Aquinas. (At least you need something like this if you want to avoid open theism, but I've long thought open theism doesn't really have the resources to respond to the problem of evil anyway, because it can't guarantee a full victory over evil, not to mention being overkill, so that becomes a null option.)

You need to have some sense in which God wants to evil to happen if God in any sense knowingly allows it, so those with models of divine sovereignty that are more commonly associated with Wesleyan or Arminian theology will need to say the same thing this commenter is criticizing. God allows something rather than preventing it. Why? Perhaps the reason is because God thinks human freedom is more desirable than the desire to prevent that particular evil. You need not be a Calvinist to appeal to this sort of thing. But you better not say that God wants it to happen in every sense. God certainly disapproves of the evil, and wouldn't desire it if it weren't for whatever issue led God to allow the evil.

Once you have that distinction between desiring for its own sake and desiring for some other reason, when for its own sake God would want it removed, you have exactly the thing you're criticizing. God can desire something and not desire the same thing.

I would say that Arminians need to say this even about the salvation of non-believers if they want to avoid universalism. If anyone dies in their sins and goes to hell as a result, then God will be desiring that fate for them given their rejection of him, even if God desired them to repent and thus avoid that fate. So God both desires it and desires that it not happen, even with Arminianism. Only an open theist or a universalist can avoid saying something like that about these cases, and I don't think either can avoid saying it entirely. Even to allow one bit of evil or even the risk of it is a tradeoff in one sense, with God choosing one thing over another that would be good and desirable if all things were equal.

[cross-posted at Evangel]

Age of Accountability

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I think I've hit on one of the things that's been lurking in the background in my resistance to the idea of an age of accountability. Now this post will largely be assuming some things many here will not grant, e.g. exclusivism about who gets saved, Christian particularism about how they get saved, perhaps Protestant soteriology, and traditional or classical models of divine knowledge (as opposed to open theism). One reason I assume these is because I think they're all true, but it's more important for this post that most people who hold to the age of accountability as I'm about to explicate it do in fact assume all these things. Perhaps denying any of them, or at least certain ways of denying them, will get around the problems I'm about to raise. I think it might still take some work to do so, however.

The standard age-of-accountability view includes the following claims:

1. At some age (which may not be the same for everyone), each person becomes morally responsible.
2. Before that point, (a) it would be unjust for God to hold the person responsible for their sins, or (b) they aren't really sins until that point, or (c) God would always be merciful in such cases when justice might still be deserved.
3. After that point, the gospel message applies, and those who repent and follow Christ are saved, while those who don't are not.

Now there's an unspecified fourth issue that an age-of-accountability view might go either way on. What criteria determine what the age of accountability is, and do the criteria admit of vagueness such that there isn't a clear line between being morally responsible and not being morally responsible? So we get the following two views:

Suppose there is no such vagueness. Take the case of a hypothetical child Fergus. Fergus is currently below the age of accountability, and thus if he dies he'll be saved eternally. Once he hits that age, he'll magically become morally responsible overnight, even though that transition is based in capacities that admit of vagueness such as cognitive abilities, recognition of one's own sin, grasp of the concepts necessary to understand the barebones gospel message, and so on. Thus the age of accountability seems arbitrary.

What if there is vagueness, then, in how God determines whether someone is accountable? The capacities undergirding the age of accountability are matters of vague boundaries, and thus also is the age of accountability. Children become more accountable as they become more able to understand the gospel message and apply it to themselves. This means the degree of responsibility they have for their own sin and for not responding to the gospel depends on how far along they are in their moral development.

The problem with the first view is that it's arbitrary and thus seems unjust. If God draws the line of salvation at a certain point of responsibility, when one iota less would bring someone into salvation, it seems as if the consequence is far more severe than the difference in level of responsibility should warrant. With two possible outcomes of infinite difference in value, a tiny difference in how responsible someone is shouldn't be enough to put someone in one and someone of slightly greater moral awareness, say, in the other.

The problem with the second view is that it doesn't fit well with the exclusivist position that most people who believe in an age of accountability accept. I don't happen to think vagueness problems are a problem for exclusivism in general, because in my view the basis for those who are past the accountability age is still objective and clear: Is there a genuine work of divine grace in the person's life? That doesn't come in degrees. God intends salvation for someone or doesn't. God doesn't sort-of-intend things. Those with a weaker view of God's sovereignty in salvation have to say more here, but I have no problem with vagueness problems and exclusivism per se.

But once you add in the age of accountability, there is a problem, because it becomes vague whether the person is responsible for having to trust in Christ and be committed to him. Such people are on the borderline for whether they ought to be sent to hell if they haven't repented.

Now there are a couple ways someone might still hold to an age of accountability despite this problem. God could simply ensure that no one dies while in the vague area of moral responsibility where it (a) isn't clearly enough to count as a fully participating morally responsible child but also (b) not clearly small enough to count as not yet responsible. So God could avoid the unjust outcome by working it into his providential plan that no one ends up in that position.

You could instead think there are degrees of punishment and good in the afterlife. A lot of people think that anyway. But to make this work, you'd have to think the level of punishment in hell for those in the borderline of responsibility would be so close to zero that it's very near the level of good in heaven for those who are near the borderline of responsibility and end up just making it into heaven.

I wouldn't rule out the first, but the second sounds implausible given the accounts of the afterlife that you see in scripture, and even the first has to attribute to God a lot of activity that is never spoken of anywhere in Christian scripture. It brings in considerations that we're expecting God to care about that aren't countenanced anywhere in scripture. A lot of people are so resistant to the idea that infants are morally accountable for the sin nature they're born with that they might be willing to accept these sorts of things, but it's not clear at all to me that we should prefer these adjustments to the idea that there's no age of accountability and children with no capacity to reflect on their lives morally are nonetheless morally accountable to God for their sin.

Now perhaps a more helpful way to capture what I think is motivating the age of accountability idea is to recognize that what an act of divine regeneration might look like will be different for those with diminished capacities. Presumably we're not being told that John the Baptist understood the full implications of who the Messiah was to be when we're told that he leaped for joy when his pregnant mother came into the vicinity of Mary when she was pregnant with Jesus. We're being told that he was excited somehow, and perhaps a work of regeneration at that early age included an additional sensitivity even in his pre-natal state to being in the presence of divinity. Nothing I've said here tells us one way or the other about how many infants or how many of those with diminished capacities into adulthood experience something like what John the Baptist did (or at least whatever part of it was sufficient for salvation).

So it doesn't follow at all that all infants go to hell or anything like that. That's consistent with everything I've said, but it's also consistent with all this that none do, or perhaps some do. I'm not really commenting on that issue in general, just on this one approach that I think ends up with problematic elements. So I'm not sure we should try to handle this kind of problem with the idea of an age of accountability that bases moral deservingness on capacity to understand. That doesn't mean I have a clear view on the best way to approach it, though. But positive views have never been my philosophical strength.

[cross-posted at Evangel and Prosblogion]

Sons and Slaves

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It's rare that I post on something I encounter that I have almost nothing to say about, but I was just catching up on Mark Heath's blog, and this post struck me as brilliant. Mark notices all the slave language and son language in the New Testament for believers and wonders what's going on with followers of Jesus being adopted into God's family but then called slaves of Christ. How can believers be both adopted members of the family and slaves to the master?

Mark wonders which is more fundamental or which is the way we should more strongly think of ourselves. But then he notices something that makes such a question seem completely in the wrong direction. He observes that the primary way God is addressed is as Father, and the primary way Jesus is addressed is as Lord. He thus suggests that we should think of ourselves primarily as sons* with respect to the Father and slaves with respect to the Son.

What's striking to me about this is that I think most Christians think of the Father as sort of a more distant figure to respect and pray more formally to, whereas the Son is more down-to-earth (literally; pun intended) and brotherly. The way the first two persons of the Trinity are addressed in the scriptures, however, is backwards from that. Now of course the very fact that we are told to address the Father as Father is a lot more significant than most of us reflect on. The immense privilege implicit in the first two words of the Lord's Prayer means we've been told outright how we should see God the Father, at least in terms of our praying, and it's not so much as a master as as a parent*. That tells us something about God and his attitude toward us.

OK, so I didn't have nothing to say about this. That's something. But I think Mark's observation is pretty interesting, and I didn't intend to have anything to add myself.

[*Note on inclusive language: I deliberately use the masculine here, because "sons" in NT usage would culturally have included far more in terms of inheritance and status than "daughters" or "children". That this term is applied, in my view, suggests that women who are children of the Father are treated fully as sons would have been expected to be treated, and I think something gets lost if it is translated more inclusively, at least for readers who understand this about the ancient Hebrew and Greco-Roman cultures. So I prefer to keep the gender-inclusive "sons" that is jarring in contemporary English if meant inclusively, since pretty much no one talks that way outside uber-traditionalist hyper-formal-equivalence translation circles.]

[Note on apparent typo: Yes, I know there's an extra "as" there, but it's actually correct with it and incorrect without it. I couldn't resist.]

[cross-posted at Evangel]

The Author Theodicy

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My friend and sometime co-blogger Wink likes to think of God as the author of creation in a much more literal way than most people do. He sees God as writing a story, with human beings as some of the main characters, and one response he has to the problem of evil is that the story overall justifies certain instances of badness occurring throughout the story.

This also serves as a helpful analogy for him in thinking through the relation between divine sovereignty and human freedom, since the characters in a book can easily have free will of whatever sort you'd like even if every step of their fictional lives is written by an author. Within the story, their choices are all free. They make choices, and those choices need not be determined in any way by anything outside their control (although if it's a story in a deterministic world, then of course something outside their control does determine their actions, and they at most have only compatibilist free will).

It was hard to resist thinking about the author theodicy when I heard this quote on a recent podcast (see writeup here) by the executive producers of Lost:

We're sorry that it happened, but we're not sorry that we did it, and we make no excuses for it. It is a very intense and dark time on the show. Obviously the deaths of these characters provides a tremendous emotional catalyst for the survivors, because now they're at war. The sides were a little hazy before now. Now, there's great clarity. -- Damon Lindelof

Then consider the specific reasoning given:

We felt it was really important that the audience understand that, going into the end of this show, nobody is safe. One of the problems in television is that you innately know that certain characters aren't going to die, and that strips certain shows of their jeopardy. We want there to be a feeling that anything is possible, and that going into the end of the series, that is very much true. There will be some surprising things.

It's the author-theodicy version of a point made by Augustine and Thomas Aquinas in sections of their work that I've taught in my history of philosophy intro class. Augustine asks us to consider a painting. There will likely be spots that, taken apart from the whole, would look ugly. But in the context of the whole painting they fit and make the painting itself more beautiful than it would be without them. Aquinas similarly says that the occurrences of evil in the world are indeed intrinsically bad. The fact that they occur is unfortunate, and other things being equal a good God who could prevent them would do so. But other things aren't equal, because the macroscopic picture of the history of the universe (which, of course, goes on forever into eternity according to Aquinas, with evil defeated forever after a certain point) is better as a whole if that evil occurs, even if the microscopic look at just that bit of evil should lead God to declare it bad and worth avoiding.

Lindelof seems to be making a similar point. It's unfortunate that these beloved characters had to die, but they thought things would be best for them to die at this point given the story they are trying to tell. The macroscopic look determines whether it's worth doing. They're not sorry they did it, because of that macroscopic effect. The microscopic look determines whether the event is unfortunate in itself, and in this case they admit that it is. But the macroscopic effect is what matters for storytelling, even if sometimes honesty requires acknowledging the microscopic picture as Lindelof does in this quote.

I was reading Isaiah 11 recently, and in the second half especially something occurred to me. There's a picture of Ephraim (i.e. the northern kingdom of Israel) and Judah (i.e. the southern kingdom) working together against Edom, Moab, and the Philistines. The northern kingdom had already fallen by the time Isaiah would have first delivered this oracle. There's no sense anywhere in the rest of scripture that any unification or restoration of Israel would involve two separate kingdoms of Israel and Judah, such that there would be two nations working together, and the nations of Edom, Moab, and Philistia were pretty much non-existent by the time of Christ, even if there are people nowadays who do associate themselves ethnically with them (and I don't even know if that's true).

So it seems as if someone today interpreting this passage (while holding it to be true) cannot take it to refer to a literal teaming up of the nations of Judah and Israel against the nations of Edom, Moab, and Philistia.

Then there's a bit about God striking a river and turning it into seven channels, followed by a highway from Assyria for the return of God's people from exile. Israel had been taken to Assyria and scattered throughout the ancient near east, and other peoples had been resettled in the northern land. What was to come for Judah was exile to Babylon and then return after Persia conquered Babylon. Then you get all the stuff about various animals hanging out with each other and all eating plants.

So how much of this is literal? I've seen dispensationalists explain one of their chief interpretive principles as follows. We should try to find literal interpretations for prophecies about Israel if we can possibly do so. The goal is maximize the number of literal prophecies.

Most other interpreters with a high view of scripture will not try to maximize the number of literal prophecies but will look for evenness of interpretation. The result is that, when you have this sort of thing that seems implausible to take literally, you might also have other prophecies of the same sort about a future Israel that we shouldn't take literally, even if you can (and dispensationalists do). If prophecies about Judah and Israel as physical nations aren't necessarily about literal nations, then why should we expect other prophecies about a future Israel to be about the literal nation of Israel?

So it seems to be a dispute between (a) those whose principle is to see everything as literal unless you can't avoid the alternative and (b) those who let scripture interpret scripture by seeing kinds of prophecies and looking for evenhandedness in letting prophecies about the same subject with the same style generally be interpreted in the same way.

The word 'creationism' has become a bait-and-switch term in the mouths of certain people. It first gets used to mean some very general thing when you figure out who counts (i.e. someone who believes God created or someone who believes God fashioned the universe via some means that wouldn't be likely if naturalism would be true). But then it gets applied as if it means a much more specific view, one seen as implausible by many who hold to creationism in the broader sense. When you want to say bad things about all the people who count in the more general sense, you call them creationists, and thus you associate them with those who hold to the more specific view that's much less tolerated.

For the sake of this post, I'm reclaiming its meaning in the general sense as perfectly legitimate for all who believe God created the universe. It therefore applies as much to those who accept a divine explanation behind the standard scientific account of the natural causes of human origins as much as it does to those who accept a supernatural method to begin with.

Now here are some possible views:

Naturalism: God doesn't exist, and so God had no role in human origins.

Non-creationist theism: God exists, but God didn't guide the origins of human life in any significant way, certainly not with any intention that we or any beings like us would come along.

Barely-creationist theism: God did guide along the causal processes that led to human life to some degree, but God had no concern for that aspect of the process. We're just a side-effect.

Creationist evolution: God fully guided the process of human origins by means of the standard scientific model (or something close enough to it), including natural selection and common descent of humans from animals, with the goal of producing the life forms that resulted, including human beings. Random chance, as usually thought of in evolutionary theory, is really just statistical frequency, with God guiding the process. This view is sometimes called theistic evolution, but that name technically applies to the above two views as well.

Old-Earth, non-evolutionary creationism: The Earth is as old as the standard scientific account takes it to be, and the universe is as old as the standard scientific account takes it to be. But the standard scientific account is wrong about human origins. The mechanism usually described as natural selection and random chance (which is really divine guidance) are real and observable on the small scale, but inter-species evolution did not occur (or, on a variation, it occurred for other animals but not for humans). This view is sometimes just called Old-Earth creationism, but that view technically could apply to the above view (or even the above two).

Young-Earth creationism: The Earth is about 6000 years old, and the creation framework of Genesis 1:1-2:3 describes God's creation process chronologically and with the creation days of the poetic narrative corresponding exactly to 24-hour periods in real time. Sometimes this view is simply called creationism, but that name could apply to all the views in this list except the first one.

Those who hold to the young-Earth model criticize all of the other above views. Here I'm interested only in biblical arguments. Naturalism is easily ruled out biblically, since it denies the very existence of God, and non-creationist theism and barely-creationist theism also seem a little hard to fit with the biblical view of God creating human beings with particular intent. So among those who accept the Bible as authoritative, you're not going to find very many people who accept any of those views, even if conceptual space allows for them.

I'm interested in the arguments Young-Earth creationists use to argue against the other two remaining views. They argue that those two views cannot be held consistent with a high enough view of the Bible as authoritative and infallible scripture, and I can think of three arguments along those lines.

One argument targets common descent, because they think "created according to their kinds" cannot mean that animals were created according to their kinds by means of creating other species first and then slowly evolving them to new kinds. The above sentence would be meaningless if it couldn't mean that, and it's not, so I think that debate is easy to resolve. It can indeed mean that.

The second argument is directed against all old-Earth views, namely the less-than-convincing argument that Genesis 1:1-2:3 has to be taken so that the days within that account must refer to periods of time rather than an organization according to theological purposes. You first have to assume that it means 24-hour periods within the text's framework, which I think is indeed plausible, indeed almost certain, but then you also have to go beyond that to assume that the text's framework corresponds to an actual chronology rather than a theological organization according to the themes the author intended to bring out in contrast with similar creation myths from the time. It's the second assumption that I don't see a strong enough warrant for to counteract the overwhelming scientific evidence for a contrary view.

But there's another biblical argument against old-Earth views that I think has more punch to it. Old-Earth views require animals to have been around for much longer than human existence, killing and eating each other. I suppose there's no absolute requirement for that. Maybe they just had the teeth for carnivorous lifestyles long before they needed them or something, because God foresaw what they would need for after the fall. But such a view seems unlikely to be true. So it seems the fossil record as it stands does require believing that animals killed and ate each other before the first human sin, and animals would have been as much as a threat to the first humans, it seems, whether humans were created wholesale out of dust or out of dust by means of a long chain of natural selection and random chance moving through different species until you got the level of complexity of a human being.

The problem is that the biblical narrative does seem to assume that death came as a result of the fall. So it seems there's a conflict between the biblical narrative and the old-Earth view, even the old-Earth view denying common descent. This isn't just from Genesis 3 saying that death is a result of the fall. Isaiah 11 has the wolf, lamb, and leapard lying down with a young goat in the restored creation undoing the fall, and children play with snakes, with lions eating straw. It's as if the fall is undone, and part of that is undoing carnivorous animals' diets.

There are a number of things old-Earth views have had to say about this problem. One that I think makes some sense is that the Garden of Eden might have been a special place protecting humans from this, where the animals present were different miraculously. It's only human death that the fall brought on, not all death. But that doesn't solve the problem of how restoration undoes carnivorism, when carnivorism was never part of the fall.

It occurred to me when reading Isaiah 11 recently that this assumes something that most Christians don't actually believe. Hardly anyone who holds the Bible in high regard takes the human fall to be the first fall. How did the snake get to be tempting Eve to begin with if there was no sin in the world (and thus no death in the world)? We have to infer an angelic fall from elsewhere in scripture (although I don't think Isaiah 13-14 is a legitimate place to find direct support for that). I wonder if the use of the snake image for the tempter indicates that this angelic fall did affect non-human animals, and God generated human beings (whether by direct creation out of dust or by means of descent from animals affected by the fall) in such a way that human beings were not fallen (after all, animals here aren't fallen, just affected by the angelic fall).

Putting that together with some special provision in the Garden for removing the affects of the angelic fall from animals, I think the problem is pretty much resolved. I'd grant that it's a bit complex to be the most natural thing you'd think from reading the text. However, the issue here is never just the most natural reading of the text vs. a less-plausible reading of the text. It's a whole set of issues that complicate each other. You have the most natural reading of the text on one side with a completely impossible reading of the scientific evidence, and then you have a less-natural but certainly-possible reading of the text with a rather straightforward reading of the scientific evidence on the other side. Unless you want to make our interpretation of the Bible infallible rather than just restricting that infallibility to the Bible itself, it seems the less-plausible but possible reading of scripture with the possible interpretation of the scientific evidence is much more likely than the more-natural reading of scripture with its impossible reading of the scientific evidence.

So, although I said this objection has more force, I think there's enough to say about it that I don't think it's decisive or even worth all that much time worrying about. Those who hold to a high view of scripture can without too much effort accept either of the old-Earth views without this objection really being a problem.

For Zion's Sake

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For Zion's sake I will not be still, and for Jerusalem's sake I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth like brightness, and her salvation is like a burning torch [Isaiah 62:1, John Oswalt's translation (p.576)]

John Oswalt, in his commentary on Isaiah, says of this verse:

However it might appear, God insists that he will be at work unceasingly for Zion's sake. The emphatic position of this phrase Underlines a significant point. As important as God's name is, he is not delivering Jerusalem for himself, for the sake of his reputation, but for the love of his people. (Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 400-66, p.578)

Then he adds this footnote:

The other side of the position is given in Ezek. 36:19-27, where God makes plain that he is not delivering Israel because of anything it has done to deserve such deliverance. The deliverance is strictly an expression of his own holiness.

Here is that passage:

I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, 'These are the LORD's people, and yet they had to leave his land.' I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.

"Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.

" 'For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. [Ezekiel 36:19-27, TNIV]

Here are three views that someone might hold to try to fit these texts together:

A. God does things for the sake of his glory, and God does things for the sake of his people (or those he will bring into his people). But these motivations are distinct (but at times simultaneous), and neither is wholly reducible to the other.

B. God does things for the sake of his glory, but all this means is that he acts based on his character and promotes what's good. The reason God promotes what's good is for the sake of others. So God's doing things for the sake of his glory is explainable in terms of God's doing things for the sake of others, which is the more primary and ultimate motivation for God.

C. God does things for the sake of others, but the reason God's love is important is because it demonstrates the perfection of God, the most perfect being. It's always good to promote good, and promoting the most perfect is better than anything else you might do. So God does things for the good of others because God does everything for the sake of his glory, and doing things for others does that.

Craig Blomberg has a pretty detailed review of Philip Payne's Man and Woman, One in Christ: An Exegetical and Theological Study of Paul's Letters, and because of Denver Journal's new comment feature there's a lengthy comment in reply by Payne right below the review. There's a brief statement in Blomberg's review that Payne spends a good deal of time responding to that caught my interest.

The primary debate is over a particular issue in biblical interpretation between complementarians who insist that functional subordination is compatible with ontological equality when it comes to human relationships and egalitarians who resist such a compatibility. Most complementarians consider a similar kind of functional subordination to occur between the Father and Son in the Trinity, and so any egalitarian argument against it has to take into account both levels of the analogy, which makes things tricky to say the least. My own concern with Payne's argument lies primarily in its significance for the Trinitarian debate, but it also has an application in the gender-role issue that gave rise to the overall book that Blomberg is reviewing. I'll quote the relevant part of the exchange before offering my sense of where I think Payne's argument is mistaken.

Blomberg:

Payne finds the concept of functional subordination within ontological equality virtually non-sensical

Payne:

This misrepresents my position. I believe that ontological equality is perfectly compatible with functional subordination as long as that subordination is voluntary and temporary, as was Christ's voluntary and temporary subordination to the Father in the incarnation (e.g. Phil 2:6-11). It seems to me that if subordination in necessary and eternal, it is then an aspect of one's essence. As Millard J. Erickson says in Who's Tampering with the Trinity? An Assessment of the Subordination Debate (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2009), 250, "If the Father is eternally and necessarily supreme among the persons of the Trinity, and if the Son eternally is subordinated to him, an interesting consequence follows. The Son in not merely accidentally, but essentially, subordinate to the Father. That means that there is a difference of essence between the two--that the Father's essence includes supreme authority, while the Son's essence includes submission and subordination, everywhere and always." It is the simultaneous affirmation of equality of essence of the persons of the Trinity with this sort of difference in their essence that I find self-contradictory.

I'm not sure I agree. It depends on a couple issues. In the case of the Trinity, it partly depends on what you mean by "ontological equality". Suppose functional subordination is correct, and the Son is functionally subordinate to the Father eternally and necessarily. Does that imply ontological inequality? Well, it implies a difference that is ontological, if it counts as an ontological difference for the Son to have an essential property not shared by the Father and the Father to have one not shared by the Son. If the roles are eternal and necessary (meaning there is no possible world in which the Father and Son don't have these roles), then there is an ontological difference, yes.

But is it inequality? Only in the sense that two things that are different are not equal on the mere ground that they are different. An apple and an orange are different and thus not equal. But they're an apple and an orange and are thus not comparable. It's not as if the apple is superior to the orange or vice versa just because they're different fruits. They're just different. Ah, but isn't the hierarchical relationship of the Father and Son going to be comparable, since one is in authority over the other? Thus it won't be like apples and oranges. That's true. But what the apple-orange relationship illustrates is that you can have differences without having the kind of ontological difference that amounts to inequality. Does a hierarchical relationship involve the kind of inequality we should care about when talking about equals?

Not necessarily. In the congregation I grew up in, the pastor and chair of the elder board was an unpaid volunteer, who had a full-time job in the human resources office of a local manufacturing plant. A member of the congregation was the human resources director and thus was his boss. So they simultaneously were in authority over each other in different respects, one on a spiritual level and the other in a workplace-supervisory role. Each was functionally subordinate to the other. It's true that in this case both are temporary roles, but my point with the example isn't that it's permanent but ontologically equal. It's that a functionally-subordinate role relationship can be hierarchical without being unequal. These two men were fully equal in their rights as U.S. citizens, as members of our congregation, and as employees of their company, but in certain respects one was in authority over the other, while in other respects the other was in authority over the first. So a hierarchical relationship can involve functional subordination with ontological equality.

So it seems to me that functional subordination is compatible with equality in the important sense, and whatever sense ontological differences of the sort Payne points out will be true in a case of eternal and necessary ontological differences, it's not the sense that undermines the relevant kind of equality.

But I think there's another problem with Payne's argument. Should we assume that eternal functional subordination implies necessary subordination? Should we think eternal functional subordination of the Father to the Son involves some essential property of the Father involving authority and a different essential property held by the Son involving subordination? I'm not sure myself that such a view would be heretical, as Kevin Giles claims. As long as the property is relational, it need not be part of the essence of the Father or the essence of the Son (which on traditional orthodox assumptions should be the same essence and thus have the same properties). After all, there has to be something that distinguishes the Father from the Son for them to be two persons, even if they are also the same God and thus can't have essential properties that are different. Perhaps an essential relation between them, a functional one rather than an ontological one, that would do that trick. (By a relation here, I mean a property corresponding to a two-place predicate that's held between two things rather than a property corresponding to a one-place predicate held by one thing.)

But you might instead be able to make sense of the Father-Son relation as contingent but eternal. In other words, isn't it possible that the functional relationship between the Father and Son is a voluntary, agreed-upon relationship that the Father and Son eternally and timelessly settle on but that in another possible world they might have eternally and timelessly settled on a different relation, namely one that puts the person who actually is the Father in the Son role and the person who actually is the Son in the Father role? I'm not aware of anything in the creeds or the scriptures that precludes such a view. Something's being true at every time certainly does not imply that it had to be true. If that truth is grounded in a timeless decision that God might have made differently, then in a different possible world God would have had some other contingent fact true of him timelessly and eternally. So it simply isn't true that functional subordination across all time implies necessary functional subordination.

I think there's yet a third problem too. Complementarians think functional subordination relations among human beings in this life should not involve a woman in authority over a man in marriage or in spiritual authority over men in the church. Regardless of whether that view is correct, I don't think it's true that they hold this to be true eternally. Marriage relationships end in death, and there's no reason to think elder-congregation relationships continue with any authoritative relationship post-death. So, for the only two functionally-hierarchical relationships most complementarians today even believe in, there's no reason to think complementarians must extend those relations beyond death, and thus that functional subordination isn't even an eternal relation, never mind a necessary one. I'm sure most complementarians would insist that women will not be in authority over men in the resurrection in any way like the husband-wife or elder-member relations in this life. But that doesn't mean such relations will continue. It's consistent with complementarianism that no human being (besides Jesus) will have any authority over any other human being in the resurrection. So even if Payne were right that eternality implies essentiality (which he certainly is not), he'd have the further problem of extending his critique toward complementarians who won't even insist on eternal functional subordination, and I don't see why complementarians should insist on that.

Views on Baptism

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Marcus Maher reviews a new book called Three Views on Baptism. It basically covers the two main views of baptism found among Protestants along with a third view by Anthony Lane that is very close to what my own congregation does, and I've hardly ever seen anyone argue for such a view in print (which I think is the best practice, for the record).

The idea is that scripture isn't clear enough on the issue of baptism to justify a congregation requiring either believer's baptism or infant baptism. Instead, a congregation should leave it to the parents to decide whether they will (a) baptize their infant in anticipation of a later confirmation or (b) dedicate in anticipation of a later baptism (with pretty much the same content expressed at whichever one ends up occurring).

I happen to be of the view that each practice is functionally equivalent to the other practice. One of them conceptualizes it in a more biblical way, but the other does the same thing under a less-biblical way of describing it and conceiving of it.

As I commented on Marcus' post, I think there are two issues going on here, one of which isn't remotely settled by Lane's approach. Here are two separate questions:

1. What should a church allow in terms of its practice (only infant, only believer's, leave it to the conscience of the parents)?
2. What should a parent do (which might involve how parents choose a congregation to be members of or mighty involve choosing what to do in a dual-practice congregation)?

Even if you answer the first question with dual-practice (as I would), you still need an answer to the second question. I belong to a dual-practice congregation, and I think they made the right choice to allow both. But I think the scriptures do favor believer's baptism. Someone else might disagree with me (as several members of my congregation do, including one of the three elders). But I don't think that disagreement is grounds for division, which is why I favor the dual-practice approach.

What I don't think Lane really answers, though, is the second question. Favoring dual-practice in a congregation doesn't mean not taking a view on which to do when it comes time to decide between them, and it seemed to me from the review that Lane doesn't take a stance on that question. He thus hasn't answered the main question the other two authors are debating in the book, which is a little strange if the book is supposed to cover three views on the same question.

Holy Vestments

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In Sartorial Eye for the Clerical Guy, Christopher Benson points to the Mosaic law's requirements for dazzlingly beautiful uniforms for priests as a reason for Christian ministers to wear nice clothing today, with an emphasis on the majestic robes of the more liturgical denominations as compared with the three-piece suits of the congregations I grew up in.

In the comments, someone made the argument that Paul doesn't exactly say anything to Timothy, repeating such provisions for New Testament times. I suppose that's true, but it doesn't go far enough, because Paul did discuss vestments at one point:

likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,but with what is proper for women who profess godliness--with good works.[I Tim 2:9-10]

as did Peter:

Do not let your adorning be external--the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear-- but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious. [I Pet 3:2-4]

This is of a piece with the holy expanding to all things [edit: see my Scripture and Worship for the biblical theology of worship I'm working with here], as opposed to the holy/common divide of the Mosaic law. If all vestment can be holy, as all food, all containers, all buildings, and all days are now holy, then the principle of wearing clothing to glorify God becomes more about the inner than what it looks like. So a biblical theology that recognizes this isn't going to apply the levitical dress in a way that requires uniforms for the so-called professional ministers (on the ground that they are the replacements for priests at least in the sense of being the ones paid for ministry) or for the ordinary believer (on the principle of equality). It requires recognizing what Rick Warren wears as being just as capable of holiness and glory to God as what N.T. Wright wears.

When I raised this issue in the comments (I actually just lifted my comment verbatim above), Christopher responded:

Thank you for invoking relevant New Testament passages on clothing. Those passages deepen our conversation. I am wrestling with your contention that "the holy/common divide of the Mosaic law" is gone under the New Covenant, so that the holy is expanded to "all things." All things? Holiness can be conceived in different ways. One way is "a condition of being set apart." What is set apart about a minister who wears the same clothing at the pulpit that he wore for the Super Bowl party or neighborhood BBQ? What is set apart about going to a building on Sunday morning that resembles the bar I visited on Friday night or the mall I strolled through on Monday afternoon? Holiness quickly begins to loses its set-apartness and becomes quotidian and pedestrian.

If we think of holiness as being set apart, then it is a little strange to say that all things are holy, since then there would be nothing to be set apart from. But I think what I said is still true (and what follows is repeated from a comment I left in response). I meant that the holy/common divide of seeing the priestly/tabernacle things and the ordinary life things breaks down in the NT. Every day is equally holy, not just special festival days or sabbaths, as Paul says in several places. Every location is holy and suitable for worship rather than just a centralized temple or tabernacle, as Jesus says to the Samaritan woman in John 4. All food is clean, as Jesus declares and Peter and Paul reiterate. There are no special holy silverware items for use in a special holy building (e.g. what some people wrongly call a church) used for special fellowship meals. There are no special seats that have to be used (e.g. pews). Why should we retain the idea that some clothes are special?

That doesn't mean there's no purpose for clothing. We should still be clothed, for example, and it shouldn't be too revealing. But I don't see why a T-shirt, even one with a rip in the sleeve, or a bright Hawaiian shirt pattern should be any less appropriate for worship than a three-piece suit or dress. There's something special about worship that takes place corporately, yes. But it's not as if that's the only time we worship, and the principle that we should care about our appearance should apply as much during the week when we worship with our lives as it does when we happen to be worshiping corporately with other believers.

James Sennett's chapter in The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy considers several views on the extent of salvation:

Universalism: Everyone will be saved.
Pluralism: There is no one, true religion. Multiple religions are legitimate paths to God.
Inclusivism: There is one, true religion, but some who are technically in other religions are nonetheless on a legitimate path to God by means of the correct religion, even if they don't know it.
Exclusivism: There is one, true religion, and the only path to God is through explicitly following that religion.

Sennett argues, correctly I think, that Lewis was an inclusivist. He allows for Emeth to be saved without any explicit trust in Aslan, but he insists that Emeth was following Aslan while falsely believing he was following Tash. Aslan clearly states that Aslan and Tash are not the same being, and the followers of Tash are evil and do not make it into Aslan's country. Universalism and pluralism are as easily ruled out as exclusivism. I haven't spent an awful lot of time thinking about inclusivism, because it seems so hard to square with Paul's train of thought in Romans 10. But Sennett has helped me see that Lewis' inclusivism makes sense of one puzzling element of the Narnia stories, and he's also helped me think a little more fully about what an inclusivist view should look like.

Sennett argues that inclusivism best explains something that might otherwise be puzzling in the Narnia stories. See The Mouse Trap Theory of Atonement at Green Baggins for a serious discussion of Lewis' theory of the atonement in the Narnia books. After reading Sennett, I'm now wondering if the discussion makes any sense. It's an attempt to get an entire theory of atonement out of an event that isn't really atonement for anyone but Edmund. Sennett has a much better alternative. He insists that the Narnians' following of Aslan is not Christianity. You don't have anything in Narnia like salvation by means of faith in a work of atonement. The stone table was one event for one person that turned the tables in one war against one opponent. It's much better to think of Narnians who follow Aslan in a way more like how Christians generally see faithful Jews before the time of Christ and how Lewis saw Emeth following Aslan without knowing it when he thought he was serving Tash. I think what Sennett is suggesting is that the real atonement for Narnians is the same one for us, namely the cross in our world. The Narnians don't know this to put explicit faith in it, but it's enough that Aslan does when he initiates the work of faith in their lives to guide them along in their progress toward greater understanding, some of which may only come after their death (as was the case with Emeth). I think this makes much better sense of what Lewis is doing with the stone table and how he might say that Narnians are saved.

Anther intriguing statement Sennett makes is that Aslan is not Jesus. I thought it was obvious that Aslan is Jesus. Isn't the stone table supposed to refer to the cross, even if it isn't really salvation for all the Narnians? Well, yes, literarily. But in the world of the fiction, Aslan is a lion. Jesus is a man. The incarnation of the first person of the Trinity as a man in our world is not the same incarnation as his incarnation as a lion in the Narnian world. The incarnation is hard enough to figure out philosophically, but a double incarnation? Fortunately, Prosblogion has already had two discussions of that issue for those who are curious.

Finally, it occurs to me that inclusivism fits best with a Calvinist model of divine sovereignty. Sennett's way of describing who among other religions is genuinely on the path to salvation is that they're the ones God is working in to move them toward the right attitudes and practices, despite not having the right information to know what the gospel even is. Without that, and without the evidence of explicit faith in Jesus Christ, it's very hard for there to be objective criteria for someone to be saved. The easiest way around that is for the criteria to be simply whoever God is genuinely working in, a work that will always be brought to completion, but that requires Calvinist views of divine sovereignty over human salvation. There may be other ways to do it, but that's certainly the easiest answer to the problem. Ironically, Calvinists are probably more likely to be opposed to inclusivism than other groups, and inclusivists rarely want to be Calvinists.

Basic Inerrancy

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Matt Flanagan's Inerrancy and Biblical Authority discussed Glenn Peoples' Inerrantly Assuming Inerrancy in History. There are so many things I disagree with in the latter post that it was very hard to pull myself away from my desire to write a detailed response, but I didn't have the time.

I actually agree with much of what Matt says, if you frame it as a hypothetical, which he does: If Peoples is right that inerrancy as currently held by contemporary interrantists is not the historical doctrine of scripture throughout church history, then it's still possible to claim that the Bible is true in all God intended it to teach us. I think you lose much of what God actually did intend the Bible to teach us, but you can hold a view that God intended it to teach us less than that and still think the Bible teaches all those things.

I've written before about historical figures' attitudes toward scripture, including the biblical authors' own attitudes, and I've concluded that the mainstream Christian attitude toward scripture throughout church history has not been mere inerrancy but the stronger claim that scripture is infallible. [There are those historical revisionists today who claim that they hold to infallibility but not inerrancy, but that's logically impossible without contradiction given what these terms have historically meant. What such people are calling infallibility is not infallibility of scripture but infallibility of certain claims of scripture and not others. Inerrantists hold to the infallibility of all scripture, which entails the inerrancy of all scripture on all matters that it speaks of.]

As I was looking through the text file I keep of things to blog about, I came across a link the Bart Barber's An Errant Bible: The Gateway Heresy (ht: Russell Moore), which I never got around to posting about, but I'm using Matt's recent post as an occasion to do so. Barber's piece is excellent for a number of reasons, but one thing that struck me especially was his response to the first argument he presents from Jim Denison. Denison thinks inerrantists, in responding to objections, have brought inerrancy to the point of death by a thousand qualifications, where the view is so thin that it means hardly anything anymore. In response, Barber says the following:

Actually, Denison's argument works against him, not for him. Yes, many different people have defined "inerrancy" in different ways. And yes, several inerrantists have offered a number of qualifications of the term "inerrancy" in order to forestall misunderstanding regarding the meaning of the term. Denison has suitably demonstrated that people with an impressive array of varied beliefs about the precise nature of the Bible can all claim to be an "inerrantist" in some fashion or another. Denison's suggestion is that this complex state of affairs makes it not very meaningful for one to affirm that he is an inerrantist.
Yet even if this fact makes it mean less when someone affirms that he is an inerrantist, then it necessarily makes it mean more when someone cannot affirm that he is an inerrantist. The denial of inerrancy then means that, out of all the various definitions of inerrancy and with all of the various reasonable qualifications of inerrancy applied, a person still cannot find a way with all of that flexibility to affirm the word in any sense.
I hadn't quite thought about it that way, but I think Barber is right. I myself have argued for a lot of these qualifications. (See my The Broadness of Inerrancy and Longman, Literalism, and Genesis 1.) I don't think inerrancy really is as strong a claim as a lot of people make it out to be. There are several other things a doctrine of scripture will need to affirm to be as conservative as I think fits with what most inerrantists do believe about scripture, and inerrancy itself is only one part of that. I think Barber is right to notice that those who do end up denying inerrancy, as thin as it is given all the qualifications inerrantists bring in, says something about those who do. Their view of the authority and trustworthiness of scripture is even thinner.

This is why it's my view that inerrancy is the basic starting point for a doctrine of scripture. Those who can't hold to it in any sense seem to me to be at odds with orthodox Christian teaching on the nature of scripture. So I can agree with Matt's post only in that his hypothetical is true. If you deny inerrancy, you can still believe that aspects of the Bible's teaching are true, and if those are the only ones that God in his limited sovereignty over scripture cared to influence, then all God attempted to communicate in scripture is present in scripture's infallible teaching. But it reduces the divine role in scripture to a very thin slice of what Christians have historically held to say that God deliberately allowed errors into the Bible of the form that inerrantists deny, and I think it does raise questions of doubt. If you believe the Bible is unreliable in matters of fact that it affirms (but on the view we're considering somehow doesn't teach), then the problem is in figuring out which things it affirms but doesn't teach and which things it teaches via its affirmations. On this two-level view of the Bible, what criteria are there for sorting those out? I suggest that it will be your own preferences for what you want the Bible to teach, even if the position itself doesn't entail that (as I've seen inerrantists claim).

I was reading William Klein's review of David Peterson's Acts commentary. It included this strange argument:

In a startling example of eisegesis Peterson states, "... we may assume that wherever resistance to the message is recorded, Luke believed the Lord had not yet acted in grace and power to enable belief" (p. 404). May we? In fact Luke explains that the Jews rejected the word of God and judged themselves unfit for eternal life (13:46). I guess this shows how we all see what we want to see in texts and may wish to ignore other ways of seeing things.

The following two claims are at issue, and Klein seems to think the second claim is supposed to undermine the first. I'm not sure how.

1. Resistance to the gospel only occurs when God hasn't led someone to believe.
2. Jews rejected God and thus became unfit for eternal life.

Earlier in the review, Klein makes it clear that Peterson accepts a standard compatibilist Calvinism, whereby "God determined the players' roles in Jesus' crucifixion (2:23) without diminishing those players' responsibility for their actions". So it isn't as if he thinks Peterson denies human responsibility. But it seems the second claim is merely an affirmation of human responsibility, and somehow that's supposed to undermine the view that resistance occurs only in the absence of saving grace. Only if you took the hyper-Calvinist view that we aren't responsible for our actions would you end up thinking your belief in 1 was incompatible with 2. So I'm completely at a loss as to why Klein thinks this criticism applies to Peterson's view, because he knows that Peterson isn't such a hyper-Calvinist and even said so earlier in this review.

Am I just missing something here?

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